I stand at the entrance to the airport with my arm around her. Four of our children slide backpacks and trunks through scanners, turn for a last wave goodbye. One, for the last time. He’s graduating from their boarding school this year. Mine won’t get that old, will they? I counted, on the drive to the airport. We do this three times a year. We have five more years of school. That makes fifteen times.
Fifteen times I will drive to the airport with my forehead pressed against the glass. Fifteen times I will try not to lose my temper all morning because that’s how I feel about people I love leaving. Fifteen times we will make double batches of peanut butter chocolate chunk cookies and cram extra toothbrushes into carry-on bags and remind them to call home on Sunday.
Her shoulders shake and she lists off the things in his trunk. The old medals and the school projects. Special toys and gifts from friends. Photographs and volcanic rock and broken pieces of coral. It’s a list of a life lived well and stretched out and moving beyond. The next time she sees him, he will wear a graduation robe and an Honor’s medallion. One more miracle. Like the time one child survived licking bleach on a challenge from his brothers. Like the time another child fell from the roof and walked away with a bruise. Like the time another whispered he was ready for Jesus.
Knowing the miracles, listing them and putting them in the trunks of our mother-memories, strengthens us to turn from the airport and go back home to only three plates around the kitchen table, only three pairs of shoes to trip over in the doorway. Back home to candy wrappers stuffed beneath mattresses and Legos, forgotten in dusty corners.
This is what it feels like to say goodbye to kids going back to boarding school.
Is this what it feels like to say goodbye to children and grandchildren moving to the Horn of Africa? Is this what I’ve been doing to my parents and in-laws all these years? Leaving them to count the airport runs, the passing years, the forgotten toys? Leaving them to count the miracles and to lean in hard, trusting for more?
It’s a bruising feeling. Deflating and depleting. And I want to say, to the men who tell us the kids have passed the visa checks and are out of sight, to our guard when we return from the airport, to the woman who taps on our window and asks for water, to my husband, can you let me be bruised for a little while?
There’s a bruised reed in Isaiah 42:3 and God does not order it to stand upright. He does not force it into a strong pose. He does not cut it down. He does not stomp on it or grind it into the dirt. He doesn’t laugh at it and he doesn’t demand it try really hard to be unbruised, or to turn away and mask the bruise.
He makes a promise. His Servant will not break it. A bruised reed he will not break. A bruised reed bends and hangs limp, folds in on itself and braces against even the slightest wind. It shrinks down heavy among other, stronger reeds.
And here comes a gentle hand, cupping the swaying reed. Fingers circle the bruised part and share the weighty burden of trying to stand while bruised. A voice whispers promises.
I will never leave or forsake.
When you walk through the fire, I will be there.
Nothing can separate you from my love.
I heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.
Darkness is as light to me.
Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.
I am El Roi, the God who sees.
I am your refuge and strength.
You are mine.
I will hold and strengthen.
Even on the far side of the sea…
Have you experienced a recent bruising season? In your bruising seasons, what promises sustain?
-Rachel Pieh Jones, development worker, Djibouti